|There are many restaurants in caves, restaurants on rafts, restaurants in churches, restaurants in bank vaults, and restaurants in tents. But only a handful of cities and towns in the world can boast of having a restaurant in an airplane. Since 2001 Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, it is one of those towns. The restaurant is run by Rhonda Higginbotham, the niece of the original owner, Donna Robertson, who retired about a year ago.
The Parachute Inn, located at the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport, has transformed the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, into a unique dining room whose approach from the terminal at 11 Skywatch is a walkway that replicates the boarding experience and sets the tone for an unforgettable experience.
The inside of the aircraft has been painstakingly refurbished to capture the Southwest Airlines "look" and to give diners ample space. It has been "adopted" by Southwest and other pilots and their signatures and messages adorn the areas above the seats.
One of the walls boasts a map of the U.S. with pins identifying visitors' home towns. It provides an indication of the growing awareness and popularity of this whimsical attraction: only a handful of states are not represented.
Lunchtime offers a choice between ordering from the menu and a buffet that is heavy on popular comfort foods--mac and cheese, meatloaf, spaghetti with meat sauce, and desserts like banana pudding like one's mother used to make. The menu includes burgers, BLTs, chicken strips, hamburger steak, and grilled chicken along with tater tots, fries and onion rings, perfectly battered and breaded.
The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesdays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday and Saturday evenings from 5-8 p.m. for dinner. It is closed Sundays and Mondays.
Fridays are known as "Catfish Fridays." Saturdays feature a seafood buffet offering both breaded and peel'n'eat shrimp, stuffed crabs, and crawfish.
Prices at the Parachute are low across the menu, but the Saturday buffet is a definite bargain at $10.49.
Walnut Ridge Regional Airport's history
The airport holds the distinction of having been "visited" by the Beatles during their American tour in September 1964. During a short break in their demanding tour schedule, the group was invited to a ranch in southern Missouri. According to an article in the Jonesboro Sun, attempting to avoid their fervent fans, the group decided to fly into the relatively quiet airport before heading to this Missouri destination. However, they were found out and when they returned a couple of days later for the flight out, the runways were crowded with shrieking teenage fans.
The Wings of Honor Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum is located across the street from the restaurant. It preserves the airport's rich history as a World War II army airfield. For more information about the museum, go here.
The Walnut Ridge Regional Airport is located just off of Highway 67 north of Walnut Ridge. The Parachute is located at 10 North Skywatch. Just look for the distinctive red and tan Southwest Airlines colors. For more information call (870) 886-5918.
Commentary and photo by Bob Pest